Let’s Talk Opinion in conversation with State or Disorder
“Monarchs come with or without constitutions. Which one to go for depends entirely on your mood but more so on the monarch’s.” Monarchy for Beginners
Have Prime Ministers become elected monarchs?
Did you know that the before 1841 the appointment of a First Minister was based on monarchical favouritism? If he was parliament’s choice as well, would have rather accounted for a happy coincidence than an intended consensus.
Sir Robert Peel’s first prime-ministerial appointment, in 1834 was the last appointment made by a king against the wishes of Parliament. No other monarch attempted to go against Parliament in this matter since.
In 1841 the Tory party won the elections and Sir Robert Peel became PM again, despite the fact that Queen Victoria sympathised with the Whigs and personally disliked him.
In The Prime Minister as an elected monarch, Hinton argues that the prime minister has potentially more power than any monarch had in the past:
“The prime minister is really two persons in one, a king as well as the leader of the majority in the House of Commons. …He has inherited the prerogative power from a long line of kings who for centuries jealously guarded it and often exercised it, and he has joined to it the parliamentary power which the Houses of Parliament asserted for five or six centuries against the king’s prerogative.”
I believe he might be onto something there. Neither the electorate nor the Cabinet can check premier’s powers:
- Cabinet ministers are appointed by the PM just as the king’s council used to be appointed by the king.
- The constitution does not allow the people to change the powers of the PM but only the person who exercises them.
- Any limitations set on the power of a PM are only “prudential ones” and comparable to the former limitations of monarchic power.
The doctrine of collective responsibility in today’s politics means collective obedience by the whole administration to the will of the man (or woman) at the apex of power.
Even if Elected Monarch may appear a somewhat oxymoronic term, in view of modern developments, it does appear that what we have in Britain today is an ‘Absolute Premiership’ – as Tony Benn put it – in which power is centralised to such a degree that government decisions have become the personal views of the PM rather than the collective views of the ministers.
However, it could be argued that a PM who can carry his colleagues with him, whilst in a position of strength, is only as powerful as they let him be. It is difficult to imagine one person alone pulling all levers, issuing edicts and shaping events. Perhaps what the PM is resembles more an arbiter of choice in government, rather than a lone decision-maker. So that the PM’s personal opinion would be truly important only in a situation where the Cabinet is indecisive. As Lord Asquith once said “the office of Prime Minister is what the holder chooses and is able to make of it.”
So, to return to my original question: are Prime Ministers today ‘elected monarchs’? Lets consider the evidence at hand.
- The premier has executive powers, a majority in Parliament and the prerogatives of monarchic power.
- The bodies that would check a monarch’s power are under his control.
- He is the one appointing ministers and taking the final decisions in policy making.
- The Prime Minister can even go to war without full government or indeed the electorate’s consent.
- A monarch who abused the powers invested in them risked to loose their head, a premier’s attempt to overstretch their powers risks to loose their government, which puts them in great advantage to the former.
It is important not to forget, however, that even the most resolute of Prime Ministers is only as powerful as their cabinet and parliament allows them to be and even an ‘elected monarch’ has to bring their government to a consensus, if they wish to perpetuate their power.
They might wish also to follow my fellow blogger’s final piece of advice: “If you fancy yourself to become the monarch, many have found reading Machiavelli’s The Prince worthwhile,” since “men are always wicked, unless you give them no alternative, but to be good” and any wanna-be monarch will have more than one “wicked” citizen attempt to derail their best laid of plans.
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